Monday, September 20, 2010

Pilot Review: Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Premiered September 19 at 9pm

HBO is a network that can have their pilots advertised and hyped to death and actually deliver. After seeing numerous old-style ads for the show plastered on the walls of the subway and countless previews for the 1920s prohibition-set show, it’s finally here. It’s probably most efficient to offer a couple of overarching instant reactions before tackling the finer subtleties of the show. This struck me a lot like the pilots of two of HBO’s other historical dramas, “Deadwood” and “Rome.” It’s extremely intriguing but doesn’t reel me in. The plethora of featured characters and the intricacies of the plot make it hard to find this show terribly accessible, and I’ll admit to being more than a bit confused about exactly what transpired in the pilot. That said, the show certainly rises to the task of setting a tone and adhering to proper, marvelously decorative aesthetics. The cast is full of talented players as well, some of whom we haven’t seen for more than a minute (Michael Kenneth Williams) and others who show great promise due to fascinating characters (Kelly Macdonald and Michael Pitt). I was also pleased to see Michael Stuhlbarg, who was the star of last year’s “A Serious Man,” as a dangerous rival for Steve Buscemi’s Enoch Thompson. It’s great to see Buscemi finally have a fitting lead role, and he definitely knows how to deliver a good speech, and the sight of him taking a swig from a flask right after he delivers a rousing condemnation of drinking to a hall full of teary-eyed women immediately establishes his superb sleaziness. Michael Shannon seems like a good fit for the role of the leading lawman trying to bring down Thompson, and that dynamic should prove very interesting as the show goes on. The pilot was generally slow and immersive, though it did have some truly shocking moments, like the revelation that Michael Pitt’s Jimmy was the gunman holding up the shipment. The show certainly has positive potential for longevity, and at this point already has the makings of a classic series. I’d like to be able to connect to it more in coming weeks. Sunday nights aren’t that crowded (“Desperate Housewives,” “Dexter,” “Bored to Death,” and “Eastbound and Down” are the only shows joining “Mad Men” next week), I’ll probably continue to tune in even if the show doesn’t majorly pique my interest.

How will it work as a series? Fabulously. HBO never has a problem of running out of ideas, and its other historical dramas were gutted mainly due to lavish costs. There are so many characters here and such rich material to be milked that this show could go in an infinite number of directions, and should remain fresh and compelling for quite some time without any problems.
How long will it last? A couple of years, probably. The show is likely too expensive to continue forever, and so much money has already been poured into production design and extensive advertising, so the show will have to go on for a few years at least. Near-universal raves will help spirit the show to a second-season renewal quite soon, I’d imagine.

Pilot grade: B+


Greg Boyd said...

My advice if you're confused by an HBO show is to do what I did when watching the first episode of "The Wire": take notes. Do that for several episodes if need be, until you've gotten a feel for all the characters and their motivations. Worked for me.

This show looks so good. I'll be sure to check it out on DVD. In the meantime, I flat out loved "Lone Star".

Movies with Abe said...

I'll get the hang of it, and eventually I'll know who all the characters are. My "Lone Star" review will be up tomorrow morning; I read yours and we don't agree. But let's save that discussion for the comments on that post.